Jayhawks Open Fall Ball Action with Full Slate

Sept. 26, 2012

LAWRENCE, Kan. – A week into team practice, Kansas softball head coach Megan Smith is interested in seeing her team in various combinations in a live-action setting, while the Jayhawks are ready to suit up and play in Wednesday’s fall opener against Independence Community College inside Arrocha Ballpark at 5 p.m.

“For us as coaches, we treat it like a practice game, but for the players it’s a real game,” Smith said. “We’re excited to see who steps up. There will be some pressure situations and it’s always good to see how they respond to that.”

Kansas, who posted its second-straight 30-win season in 2011 with a 31-20 mark, follows the midweek exhibition opener with the Kansas Fall Tournament, Sept. 29-30, in which the Jayhawks will play four games in two days. On Saturday, the Jayhawks will square off against Labette Community College and Washburn at 3 p.m. and 5 p.m., respectively. In Sunday’s action, Kansas will take on Seminole State Community College and Butler Community College at 10 a.m. and noon.

“We’ll have five games this week so we’ll have a good opportunity to see several players in different positions,” Smith said. “We’re really excited about the depth in our outfield so we’ll get to see them put together in key situations, which is nice. Plus, we’ll get to see Maddie Stein behind the plate. Last year she caught just a little bit, so she’s been working on it really hard this fall. Obviously, we’re excited to see Kelsey Kessler pitch for the first time in a game this season.”

The fall exhibition schedule provides a live-game environment that will help Smith and her coaching staff evaluate the team’s progress during their allotted team-practice times, which kicked off on Sept. 17. In 2012, Smith is joined by a new pitching coach in assistant Abbie Sims and veteran assistant Adam Roorbach, who is entering his fourth season in Lawrence.

Starting Wednesday against ICC, the staff will witness all eight newcomers take the field for the first time in a game. Offsetting the rookies, the Jayhawks’ are stacked with experienced returners – including six starters. Among the list of 11 returning players is senior outfielder Maggie Hull, an All-Big 12 First Team honoree and CoSIDA Third Team Academic All-American. Hull broke Kansas’ season batting average record with a Big-12 best .409 batting average at the conclusion of the 2012 regular season.

Hull is joined by a pair of All-Big 12 Second Team members in Maddie Stein and Chanin Naudin as well as a long list of starters who are well-versed in the challenges of competing in the Big 12.

Chaley Brickey (Weatherford, Texas), Alex Hugo (Olathe, Kan.), Kylee Kennedy (Topeka, Kan.) and Kelsey Kessler (Blue Springs, Mo.) signed during the team’s early signing period. Brickey, ranked the No. 22 recruit in ESPN.com’s High School Recruiting Class of 2012, is one of many new Jayhawks to make her highly anticipated debut on Wednesday.

Junior-transfer Taylor Hatfield signed on to play her final two seasons at Kansas after successful freshman and sophomore campaigns at Cowley College (Arkansas City, Kan.). The newcomer total moved to eight this summer when transfers Nikki Bruce (Overland Park, Kan./Eastern Kentucky) and Lindsay Horwitz (Gurnee, Ill./Heidelberg Univ.) and freshman Reilly Lamb (Bloomington, Ill.) joined the team.

“We’re really excited about finally seeing them play someone other than themselves,” Smith said. “But for us (the staff), it’s a practice and we treat it that way. We’re excited to see all of our newcomers out there and see how they respond to playing someone other than themselves.”

Aside from the eight newcomers, Kansas will also be getting two-year starter Alex Jones back from a redshirt season in 2012. The outfielder/pitcher is fully recovered from an ACL injury she suffered last fall and is back to make the Jayhawk outfield one of the deepest and most talented in the Big 12. Preparing a starting lineup with competition at every position is something that starts as early as the fall schedule.

“(Fall ball) is for us to focus on us and what’ we’re working on,” Smith said. “We won’t use all of our offensive tools, obviously, since we’ve only been together for a week, but it’s about seeing where we are and how we can mix up our lineup to see different people in different places.”

Sept. 26 – Independence CC – 5:00 p.m.
Kansas Fall Tournament
Sept. 29 – Labette CC – 3 p.m.
Sept. 29 – Washburn – 5 p.m.
Sept. 30 – Seminole State CC – 10 a.m.
Sept. 30 – Butler CC – 12 p.m.
Oct. 3 – Baker University – 6:00 p.m.
Oct. 15 – Avila University – 6:00 p.m.